Dec. 19-20: Lake Titicaca via Puno - Dancing Indigenous Soul Train and Eating Guinea Pig
Puno Travel Blog› entry 35 of 89 › view all entries
We arrived at Juliaca located at 3800m and surprisingly, I didnâ€™t feel the same shortness of breath I had in Quito. I had been taking Diamox for the last 2 days and it seemed like it was working. I was proud of myself because I stopped taking the altitude sickness drugs after Lima and adapted quite well to the altitude. I had been really worried that altitude would be a problem with the incredible physical exertion of the Inca Trail, given my problems in Quito doing nothing.
We rode by bus to Puno, the launching point for the Lake Titicaca islands. The plan was to visit Taquile Island, homestay on Amantani Island, and check out the floating islands on the way back the next day.
After a short respite in the hotel preparing a day pack, we bussed over in pouring rain to the port to buy some gifts (aka pasta, rice, cooking oil, fruits) for our homestay families on Amantani Island. We were told not to buy candy for the children on the islands, because there was no dental care, but things like pens and pencils were good gifts but not to give money. It was a weird dynamic because you wanted to take pictures of the cute kids but once you did, they would accost you for money and/or gifts. They would also try to sell hand-braided bracelets for 2 soles (66 cents) each but we were told not to support this elementary form of capitalism because the kids were distracted in schools making their goods.
It is at this point that I begin to slowly form my views and opinions on the disparity of wealth between myself and other peoples in the world, between different peoples within the same country. I canâ€™t say that this trip is my Motorcycle Diaries, but it has helped really open my eyes to the great differences in possessions and material wealthâ€¦more than any African charity organization on TV has.
Anyways, we get on our way on the possibly the slowest moving boat. If there was a paved path to the islands, I think we would have gotten there faster walking, altitude and all. We had lunch at a â€śrestaurantâ€ť on Taquile, a nice picnic area on one of the many terraced farms. It was delicious: vegetable soup with quinoa and grilled trout served with rice and potatoes.
The hike up to the main square of Taquile left me huffing and puffing. Even though I wasnâ€™t feel the same shortness of breath as in Quito, any physical activity still left me breathless.
The boat ride to Amantani Island was short but bumpy. We practiced Quechua phrases on the boat. Quechua is the language of the Incas and still spoken by a lot of people in the Andean region. At the pier, we were introduced to our homestay mom. Olga was the mom for Avi and me. We huffed uphill to our house (I was ready to just sleep on the hill to avoid the endless uphill climb). After dropping our bags off, we met the others for a lungs-piercing hike up to Patchatata, the ruins of a temple.
Dinner was starch-filled and delicious: vegetable soup, followed by a starch potpourri: pasta, rice, potato, sweet potato, green pepper. We ate in the kitchen, a mud hut with no electricity and everything cooked from a wood stove. Olga lives with her parents, brother, and daughter, Nellie. Apparently, Nellieâ€™s father ran away with another woman. This was told to me nonchalantly in Spanish by her parents and wasnâ€™t sure if I understood correctly. But Olga later confirmed it. Itâ€™s not uncommon for the father to leave the island to work in Puno or Lima to make more money and eventually drifting away and running away with another woman.
I kept on trying to befriend Nellie, but was constantly rejected. Maybe, because I wasnâ€™t quite sure what her name was. In any case, this was the beginning of my many quests to be friends with children and animals and getting rejected.
We got dressed up to go to dance hall in a beautiful blouse, colorful waist belts, gorgeous skirt, and well-embroidered mantle. The dance party lasted for about an hour because every one was pooped. I danced with Olga, everyone did a huge circle dance (rushing in and out, running around), conga lines, switching directions, and my favorite: a Peruvian soul train going down the train in pairs and even backwards, all initiated by Olga! Throughout the whole night, I was bummed that I could never recognize Olga amongst the other moms, until she came up to Avi and me to dance.
Our room was very comfortable but I was freezing. I had to sleep with about 10 blankets and of course, I had to pee at night, which entailed walking outdoors to the outhouse and hoping I was peeing into the hole because it was pitch black. I woke up a few times at night until I added the extra blankets. The altitude also causes people to wake up a few times. After I got warm, I slept well, apparently missing a huge downpour. Breakfast was delicious: thin pancakes with jam. After taking an absolutely classic picture with my new friend Nellie (after giving her a friend), Olga, Avi, and I walked back down to the pier with Olga knitting all the way down. I was concentrating on not falling on my ass in the slippery mud.
We took the boat to Uros Floating Islands, which are amazingly floating islands made of reeds. They have to regularly add new reeds to maintain the island and theyâ€™re tethered to big poles drilled into the ground. The islands are springy to walk on and really just incredible. The pictures do better justice to the sight.
In the afternoon, we returned to our hotel in Puno via an exciting, death-defying tricycle taxi ride, which my taxi won after my exhortations to be number one. It left our driver heaving but victorious! Later, I bought an alpaca sweater with the required llama/alpaca on it.
Animal lovers donâ€™t read below: For dinner, we ate an Andean delicacy, cuy or guinea pig. It came served regally with a carrot in its mouth and tomato flower crown. It tasted a little like duckâ€¦I made sure our 9-hour charter bus the next day had a toilet before I committed to ingesting the cuy. The next day I saw guinea pigs alive, cute and cuddly.